Team brainstorming

Is It Worth It to Stay at Your Current Job?

Most of today’s employed 20 and 30-somethings see their current job as a stepping stone: It’s fine for now, but they won’t hesitate to leave if something better comes along. We’re young and we’ve got a few decades’ worth of career opportunities waiting to be taken. Why shouldn’t we experience everything we can while we’re able to?

For some people, the goal is bounce around until they land a job or start a business they love and stick it out until retirement. Others accept that the “dream” job they envisioned as a young, hopeful undergraduate may not exist, and are content to continue job hopping throughout their career. But even those in the latter camp know when a gig is good enough to stick around for a while.

How can you tell that a position is worth more than a year or two of your time? While the specifics of an ideal job vary from person to person, there are a few basic elements that most employees want out of their workplace. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to discover if your current job is worth keeping – even if it’s just until the next opportunity presents itself.

Do I have a good relationship with my direct supervisor? 

Your relationship with your manager can really make or break a work experience. This person directly oversees your daily responsibilities and plays a huge role in your career progress within the company. You don’t have to be best friends with your boss, but the ability to have open, mutually respectful communication and a clear understanding of each other’s expectations goes a long way in terms of your job satisfaction.

Do I feel like a valued member of my team? 

When you work on a team, you don’t want to feel like your co-workers are getting all the credit while you’re left behind. At a good job, you’ll feel a sense of camaraderie, and everyone will be appropriately acknowledged for their efforts. As with your boss, it’s also important that you get along with your immediate colleagues, or at least be on civil terms — bad blood among team members makes for a hostile, unpleasant work environment.

Does my company care about its employees and their well-being? 

It’s good to get along with your team, but the company as a whole should treat you like more than a cog in the machine, too. It should be evident from company-wide HR policies such as paid time off, flexible work arrangements, or even employee activities and training opportunities that the organization actively invests in its people.

Can I realistically see myself advancing at this company? 

Based on employees who have held your position (or similar ones) in the past, you should be able to get a general idea of where your career could go if you stay at this job. Whether you can move up in your current track or switch to a different department, you should be able to see a future for yourself there.

Do I like the work I’m doing now? 

Your “daily grind” shouldn’t actually feel like a grind. Every job has its fair share of grunt work now and then, and you’ll get a few projects you don’t particularly enjoy, but overall, you should like what you’re doing. If you’re stressed all the time and dread doing your day-to-day job duties (and they’re not likely to change anytime soon), it might be time to start seeking out other opportunities.

Am I consistently motivated to do my best work? 

This is perhaps the most important question of all. It’s easy to stay motivated when everything is going your way, but what happens when you hit a rough patch? If you enjoy your work enough to keep coming back every day, you can overcome a grueling project, a strained colleague relationship, or a stalled promotion.

A bad workplace chips away at your motivation until you dread the thought of even getting out of bed on a work day. But a good company will keep your sense of optimism alive. It gives you hope that any negative situation you face there is only temporary. Something — whether it’s your close-knit team, a fun company outing or even a sincere note of thanks from your boss — makes you hold on and assures you that better days lie ahead.

If you don’t feel this way about your job, it’s probably time to start sending out your resume.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Kaboompics.com via Pexels

Isolated iPhone

How to Break Your Smartphone Addiction (Without Giving Up Your Device)

When was the last time you intentionally left your smartphone at home? You probably don’t remember; I certainly don’t.

If you’re anything like the average American, you check your phone once every 12 minutes (or about 80 times a day), both for work and play. Don’t know the answer to a question? Google it. Got a work email after hours? Answer it now so you don’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. Bored on the train? Play a game or watch a YouTube video. Want to know where your friends are? Pull up social media and find out.

We’ve become so used to having the world’s knowledge at our fingertips that we feel lost when we’re not using our mobile devices.

A while ago, I downloaded the Moment app to track my phone usage. On the first full day I used it, I had checked my phone 73 separate times for a total of 2 hours and 21 minutes of use, most of which occurred before and after I left the office. That’s 141 minutes glued to my phone; 141 minutes that I could have been reading a book, working on a craft, or going for a walk. But instead, I was distracted by emails, Instagram posts and black holes of random “related articles.” It’s a habit, and like any other habit, it can be unlearned and eventually broken.

While I am making a conscious effort to use my phone less and be more present and aware of my surroundings, I admit that sometimes I need a little help. Here are a few tricks that have helped me cut down on the impulse to constantly pick up my phone.

Turn off all email and social media notifications. 

I’m one of those people who needs to look at a notification as soon as it pops up. I need to know what was texted, emailed, retweeted, or liked. And that was a huge factor in how often I checked my phone.

For the last year or so, I’ve intentionally turned off notifications on email and social media. It sounds crazy, I know. But I make a point to check these apps a few times each throughout the day so I don’t miss anything. And you know what? It doesn’t take me that long to catch up. It’s rare that something is so important that it can’t wait until I have a few minutes here or there to look at it.

If something is truly urgent, my boss, coworkers, and freelance clients all have my phone number — they can call or text me, and I’ll know it’s something that requires my immediate attention.

Can’t bear to turn off email notifications altogether? Apps like BoomerangSaneBox and Inbox Pause help you filter and regulate your inbox better by controlling when messages come in.

Take advantage of airplane/do not disturb mode. 

Mobile devices allow you to set them to “airplane mode,” which blocks all incoming and outgoing data. If you don’t use this setting in everyday life (i.e. when you’re not on an airplane), you’re missing a valuable opportunity to enjoy a short stretch of notification-free time.

On occasions when you want to truly be present — family dinner, date night, the kids’ soccer game — just switch airplane mode on and put up a digital barrier. This is also useful when you’re trying to sleep and don’t want to be woken up by any random texts or emails you may get in the middle of the night.

Leave your phone in another room or face down.

Want a really easy way to stop obsessing over your notifications? Just don’t look at your screen.

When I work from home, I try to leave my phone on my nightstand or in my kitchen, away from my desk so I don’t get distracted throughout the workday. If I know I’m expecting a call, I’ll have it next to me, but facing down so I don’t see the screen light up with any other notifications that may come through.

Keeping your phone face down is a really good habit to get into when you’re with other people, too. You don’t want to be that rude friend who keeps texting other people when you’re trying to catch up over coffee, or that distracted person in a meeting who’s clearly not paying attention.

Acknowledge your “boredom” phone use. 

When there’s a legitimate reason to check your phone — an important email or text from a good friend, for instance — and it won’t interrupt something else that requires your full attention (especially driving!), go ahead, open up that notification. But it’s the times when you check your phone out of boredom, simply to scroll through Instagram photos and tweets or stalk a high school acquaintance’s Facebook profile, that really detract from living in the moment.

If you feel yourself itching to light up that home screen when there’s no notification waiting for you, take a minute and ask yourself why you want to check your phone. And if there’s no good reason, don’t do it. Find something else to do for a few minutes — fold laundry, pick up a magazine, clean out your fridge, etc. If you can learn to be comfortable with periods of mental silence, without a digital distraction, you might just break that compulsive need to look at your phone.

Image credit: Negative Space/Pexels.com

Home office setup

How to Actually Get Work Done When You Work from Home

Like many of today’s professionals, I work from home. A lot.

I do occasionally work remotely for my full-time job, but in most cases, I get in from the corporate office and walk right into my home office to start on side projects for my freelance clients.

Regardless of the tasks you’re doing, it takes a lot of discipline to get work done in your home, especially when the couch, the TV, the fridge, the laundry, the dog, etc. are all just a few steps away. You need to proactively create an environment that’s conducive to productivity, while drawing mental and physical boundaries between work and play.

While everyone’s ideal remote work conditions vary, here are a few general tips for making the most of your work-from-home time.

Create a space that’s just for work

Working from the couch or your bed may sound nice in theory, but in practice, these spaces are too “cozy” and relaxed to put you in the right mindset for productivity. I have a desk and office chair set up in the spare room of my apartment, and do my best to contain business-related tasks, calendars, notebooks, etc. to that space.

No space for a home office? Set up a small folding table in the living room and use it strictly for work, or work at the kitchen counter. Wherever you choose to set up shop, keep your “work” area clutter-free to minimize distractions (hello, dirty dishes and baskets of laundry).

You may also want to join a coworking space or head to a local coffee shop from time to time, just for a change of scenery.

Get dressed

Working from home equals working in your pajamas, right? Technically, yes, it could. But it’s not a good idea if you want to set boundaries between work time and lounge time.

Wearing comfortable clothes is a great perk when you’re home for the day, and there’s no need to dress in office attire. However, changing out of the clothes you wore to bed really does make a difference in how you approach your work (even if it’s just a pair of yoga pants and a different t-shirt).

Develop (and stick to) a schedule

When you don’t have a commute hanging over your head, you can justify starting your workday a little earlier or wrapping up a little later to accommodate any non-work things that pop up during the day. It’s fine to take a little time away from the “office” when you’re working from home — and you should, since people are generally more productive when they take frequent breaks. But make sure you set time limits for yourself and build these breaks into your daily schedule. If you don’t, you could end up stretching out your day without getting any real work accomplished.

Become a top-notch communicator

One of the biggest arguments against working from home is the idea that if you’re not physically in the office, the boss can’t keep tabs on you to make sure you’re actually doing your work. This isn’t necessarily true, and many managers have realized that trusting employees to complete their tasks no matter where they are creates a much more positive, productive work culture. However, that trust needs to be earned through your communication skills.

If you’re working from home for your employer, your boss should be able to get in touch with you during normal work hours, as they would if you were in an office. This could mean being available on an instant messaging platform, responding to emails quickly or checking your phone for calls and texts from co-workers. And don’t wait for your manager to hound you with messages — check in with them when you sign on and off for the day, or when you’re taking a break. No matter what method of communication you and your team agree upon, don’t let yourself become “out of sight, out of mind” when you work from home.

Working for yourself and setting your own hours? You should still be available for your clients when they try to reach you. While you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to be on-call 24/7, do your best to respond to emails, messages, and calls in a timely manner, and always communicate well ahead of time if you can’t meet an agreed-upon deadline. Your clients will appreciate it, and you’ll establish a reputation as a responsible, reliable freelancer.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Pexels

Graduation ceremony via Pixabay/Pexels (CC0)

Career Advice for New Grads: What I Wish I Knew Before My First Job

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2018. For four (or more) years, you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into your studies and extracurricular activities, all in preparation for this day. Every all-nighter, every stress-inducing exam, every term paper will be worth it when you finally receive that long-awaited diploma, which has the potential to open the doors to your dream career.

This time six years ago, I was in your shoes. Days before graduation, I had officially accepted a full-time, entry-level job at a marketing company in midtown Manhattan. I fully believed I was ready to take my first steps into the “real world.”

I felt like I had the hang of working in an office from my part-time internships during college. How different could it be? I’d arrive at 9 a.m., sit down at my desk, do my work and go home eight hours later. I’d get a steady paycheck and paid vacation time, and make some great new friends. That’s what I thought, anyway.

I had a lot of expectations going into my first day on the job. Some of them turned out to be correct, but many of them were quickly shattered. The year that I spent at this company taught me a lot of valuable lessons — both about my career and life in general — that I took with me when I moved on to my next corporate job. Below are just a few of the things I would go back and tell my 21-year-old self, in the hopes that the newest members of the workforce can benefit from them. 

Work might follow you home.

Many first-time members of the workforce make the naïve assumption that work will end when you leave the office. This is how it was at my internships: I never had to worry about what happened once I walked out the door. But when you’re a full-time, salaried staff member, your responsibilities can and will extend outside the confines of your desk. With today’s cloud and mobile tech, people don’t follow the “9-to-5” mentality anymore. While you shouldn’t be expected to respond to your boss’s emails at midnight, there are going to be times when an after-hours emergency pops up, and you may need to be the one who deals with it.

… but don’t let work become your life. 

Just because you can work from anywhere at any time does not mean you should. Yes, you will have to stay late or come in early sometimes, or miss out on a social events because of a big project. But you’re an entry-level employee. You’re not running the company, and the company certainly isn’t paying you enough to spend every waking moment doing work. Set a time each night when you’ll stop checking your emails. If you’re working for a company that expects you to be on-call and working 24/7 (when you were hired for a 40-hour-a-week job), that’s not a place you want to stay at for too long.

You won’t earn everyone’s respect. 

Most of us know that respect in the workplace needs to be earned, especially as an entry-level employee. However, you also have to realize that there will be certain people in the office who will never respect you. They will never see you as anything more than a means to a corporate end, no matter how hard you work or how valuable your contributions are. Don’t fight it, and don’t lash out because of it. Find the ones who do respect you and stick with them.

Speak up about problems (but don’t gossip). 

If there’s a serious problem with the way your boss is running things, you need to speak up. Ask for a private meeting, or if you’re too afraid to approach your boss directly, bring it up to the next person in command. If you don’t say something, the situation will never change. What won’t help anything is gossiping with your fellow lower-level colleagues about how you’re planning to apply to other jobs just to get out. You never know who’s listening, or who will bring that second-hand news back to the boss.

Perception matters, so give 100 percent, even if there’s no reward. 

You’re not always going to get credit for the work you do. As frustrating as it is to receive little to no recognition for the hours you spent slaving over a project, don’t use that as an excuse to slack off and fade into the background. That’s something your bosses and colleagues will immediately notice, and it won’t do you any favors when it comes time for evaluations, promotions, or even future job recommendations. On the flip side, if you establish a reputation as someone who gets things done, solves problems, and eagerly accepts new challenges, you’ll be one of the first in line to climb the ladder.

Your job description will change as you go.

No position is static. When you first start working, your duties should at least resemble the ones listed in the job description. But as your skills develop and the company’s needs change, you may (and probably will) be asked to go in a different direction, take on more work, and tackle some new challenges. You shouldn’t feel stressed and overworked 24/7, but if the boss asks you to do something you weren’t necessarily hired to do, welcome the project as an opportunity to grow and learn. You never know if the experience will come in handy at a future job.

Make time to recharge and take care of yourself. 

Most full-time jobs come with the benefit of paid time off, and they’re there for you to use. Don’t avoid taking a vacation day because you’re afraid your boss will think less of you for taking a day off. Even taking a single day off every couple of months can help you recharge and keep you from burning out. If you’re running yourself into the ground by working nonstop, your performance and overall attitude will start to decline.

Have an exit strategy. 

Unless you hit the corporate jackpot and find a job where you can swiftly move up the ranks, it’s more than likely that your first job is just going to be a stepping stone to bigger, better things. There’s nothing wrong with that, and most companies have come to expect high turnover rates in their lower-level positions. Keep an eye on companies you might want to work for in the future, and network with other people in your industry — both great ways to begin planning your exit, even if you’re happy where you are for the moment.

Image credit: Pixabay.com / Pexels (CC0)

"Adult, Art, Conceptual" by creativecommonsstockphotos

Stuck in a Career Rut? Here’s How to Get Out

No matter how much you love your job, there are days that make you wish you could walk out and never come back. Maybe it’s the extra work you’ve taken on since a key colleague quit, or an important project that’s not going quite as planned. Whatever the reason, just about anything in the world seems preferable to dragging yourself into the office right now.

It’s normal to feel like you’ve hit a stumbling block in your career every once in a while. You shouldn’t ignore this feeling, but you shouldn’t let it consume you either. Instead, take some time to analyze the situation. Then, figure out how to move past it.

If you’re ready to break through your career roadblock, ask yourself the following questions, and be honest with yourself when you answer.

Why do I feel stuck?

Pinpointing the real reasons for your slump is the first step to getting past it. For instance, rather than fixating on the feeling that your boss doesn’t like you, think about why you feel that way. Has your boss actually told you or someone else that they dislike you, or do you just feel that way because they rarely acknowledge your efforts, or keep piling work on your plate when you’re already busy? When you can nail down the larger issue(s), you can start thinking about ways to address it, rather than letting your emotions stew and cloud your perceptions.

Who can I talk to about it?

Depending on your circumstances and relationships with your supervisor and colleagues, you may be able to set up a meeting with the appropriate person and discuss the situation. Has a disagreement between you and a team member been causing hostility among the group? Try talking it out with them to see if there’s a way to resolve it. If you’re upset about being passed up for a promotion, ask to meet with your boss or HR to review your career path and find out what you can do to be considered next time. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your problem with someone in the office, confide in a partner, friend, or family member and ask their advice.

What do I love about this job?

You may not be thrilled with your job right now, but try to think about the positive things you’ve gained during your time here, like the skills you’ve learned, exciting projects you’ve worked on, or the great rapport you’ve built with your colleagues. Remind yourself of something you love about your work and focus on that to help you power through any rough patches.

What can I do to boost my confidence at work?

When you feel really good about what you’re doing every day at work, it’s much easier to feel positive about your career. Whether it’s getting around to a minor task you’ve been putting off or sharing a great idea during a meeting, do at least one thing every day that makes you feel confident and accomplished. As that confidence builds, so will your job satisfaction, and you’ll be back at your peak before you know it.

Still feeling like your motivation at work has stalled? It might be time to look for another job — or even start a business of your own. Listen to your intuition and do what feels right; you shouldn’t force yourself to stay at a job you hate.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

Black Android Smartphone by creativecommonsstockphotos

3 ‘Good’ Work Habits That Hurt You in the Long Run

We all want to get ahead in our careers. Whether you’re an employee hoping for a promotion or a freelancer trying to grow your client base, you probably don’t want to stay stuck where you are forever.

What can you do to increase your chances of moving up in the world? Proactively pitching ideas to your boss or client, taking on extra assignments, and putting in extra hours to deliver work ahead of deadline will all serve to establish you as a dedicated professional with unwavering work ethic. These practices make a good impression and can open up new opportunities for you. But proceed with caution: Going full-force, 24/7 will only burn you out, leaving you exhausted and unable to live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself and the people you work for.

It’s good to go above and beyond, but you still need to maintain healthy boundaries so your performance doesn’t ultimately suffer. If you really want to get ahead, think twice before you form these seemingly helpful work habits that could actually hurt you in the long run.

1. Saying ‘yes’ to every project. 

In the workplace, volunteering to help your boss with a big project or offering to do something outside of your normal job duties makes you look great. However, raising your hand for every single additional project will only bog you down. Your boss and team members will come to rely on you to pick up any extra slack, which often means mean your regular work — the job you were actually hired to do — ends up falling by the wayside.

The same is true in the world of freelancing. You might want to accept every gig that comes your way, especially if you’re short on cash or need to pad your portfolio. But it’s not good to overload your calendar with tedious or difficult projects that don’t pay enough for the time you spend on them. Believe me, I’ve been there — and I’ve ended up having to “fire” a client or two for my own sanity.

In both situations, it’s best to be judicious with your time and only agree to work you know you can handle. It’s better to say no when you know you don’t have the time or skills, than agree to it and ultimately disappoint your boss or client with the end result.

2. Being available 24/7. 

Do you frequently put in 12-hour work days? Are you notorious for responding to emails immediately, even in the middle of the night?

If you’re trying to win favor by being available all the time, you might be setting yourself up for failure. It’s good to be responsive during the business day, but spending all your waking hours working (even if it’s just on your smartphone while you’re out and about) sets the expectation that you can always be reached, and once people realize that, they’ll never let you take a break.

It’s a bit easier to maintain boundaries when you’re an employee with a set work schedule (in fact, New York City recently proposed a law that would outlaw the requirement to respond to work-related communications after-hours). As a freelancer, you need to be proactive about defining and adhering to “office hours” for yourself, but either way, don’t let work dictate every single moment of your life.

If you’re worried about missing a work emergency, let your boss, co-workers or clients know up front that you stop checking emails after a certain time, but for truly urgent matters (key word: “truly” — as in, absolutely cannot wait until the next morning), they can contact you on your phone.

3. Forgoing a personal life in the name of work. 

We all know technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time. Sometimes, work will interrupt date night or family dinner. You might have to bail on a friend’s party for an important conference or networking event. However, continually skipping out on things like get-togethers, soccer games or even vacations in favor of work will take its toll on you and the people you’re close with. Even though your boss or client might be pleased with having such a committed worker, you need to decide if it’s worth potentially damaging your personal relationships because you missed these events.

Remember, getting ahead is all about balancing what’s good for business and what’s right for you. Not putting in enough effort could cost you a promotion or client deal, but sacrificing your personal life and health to get there might cost you your happiness.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)